Grapevine: News from the Paddock - Bahrain GP

Checking in the late night flight to Bahrain on the Thursday before this weekend's race, the Gulf Air desk came across an unusual outsized luggage item. McLaren, after a last-minute rush, checked in one of their team members to ferry across two race seats - one boxed and one bubble wrapped - to help fit Alex Wurz in the car. The team were forced to make rapid modifications to the MP4-20 machine to fit the lanky Austrian into the cockpit after he was called up to replace Pedro de la Rosa in the Friday testing sessions, and after a late fitting at the factory Wurz flew out to be followed by his seat. All was well on Friday morning, when everything, including Wurz, fitted into the new car - although all the efforts apeared to be worth little when, come first session, the car ground to a halt without setting a competitive lap time.

Cutback Celebrations

After a highly acclaimed arrival on the Grand Prix circuit last year Bahrain appeared to be skimping on their outlay as they begin to realise Formula One is more expensive than they first thought. The broadband internet, which was supplied free of charge to journalists last year, now came at cost and rather than the lavish sea-side late-night welcome party that was put on in 2004 the guests were now invited to a simple drinks get-together in the paddock at six o'clock on Thursday evening. But it was soon clear the Bahrainis have not stopped trying to impress, when it was revealed that the internet only came free last year because of the local phone company and that the 'minor' drinks party was actually a laser-light extravaganza with bands, singing and strange stilted people in funny costumes. It all made for another excellent welcome to the Middle East, until the internet broke down...

Manama March

One such welcome that came as more surprising were the goings on in Manama town centre on the Thursday morning. Ambling around the city to get their bearings a couple of journalists came across a bizarre ceremony in which black-clad women lined the streets to watch men striding shoulder to shoulder through the streets, chanting, waving their samurai-style swords aloft and actually cutting their heads. The trail where the march had gone was covered with drips of blood and several marchers had to break off because of their cuts. The whole parade was followed by an ambulance and remains a bizarre indication that although Formula One provides a worldwide culture the places it visits still have plenty of unique events of their own!

Security Matters

The Bahrain organisers were keen to make the event go on without a hitch and installed unprecedented safety measures throughout the city to ensure the smooth passage of the Formula One circus through the Kingdom. Every fan entering the circuit was forced to have a bag search and walk through an airport-style security gate and, even more astonishingly, every car entering the Ritz-Carlton complex where almost all the drivers and teams were staying had its engine bay and boot checked for any explosive devices at a specially created heavy-duty chicane at the entrance.

Flag Failure

The late disappearance of Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya from the list of drivers, through a sporting injury, created last minute hassles for the organisers as well as the McLaren team as all the signage around the circuit had to be changed to replacement driver Pedro de la Rosa. All seemed in order but one eagle-eyed journalist spotted a Colombian flag that had remained in place on the drive-in to the circuit. At least they had de la Rosa covered with the Spanish flag that was already in place for world championship leader Fernando Alonso.

Sand Trap?

From the air, the Bahrain circuit looks like a black tarmac track snaking through the desert landscape, but beneath the 'sand' lies a secret. The run-off areas, which were made of treated sand last year, are now as much tarmac as the race circuit itself. The organisers have laid concrete and a super-grip rubber surface on several areas around the circuit but to maintain the image of Formula One's desert circuit they went to the effort of painting it all back to its previous sandy colour.

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